Tit for Tat

A big anonymous boob bars a large fake breast from the medical center food drive

Most folks seem to just love Shelley Buschur's breast — a detachable foam-and-wire-mesh mammoth measuring 20 inches in diameter and a foot high, mounted to the roof of Buschur's nurture-themed Karmann Ghia. Elsewhere on the car, painted planets and stars float on a dark blue background, and each fender supports its own nude goddess figure, one of which waves multiple arms, another of which is pregnant. Fluorescent painted baby dolls crawl across the roof toward the bulbous centerpiece.

"I see the images on my car as being very positive and being very pro-woman and pro-mother and pro-family and pro-breast-feeding," says Buschur. She has more than an esthetic interest in such matters; for the past seven years she has been a certified nurse midwife at Baylor College of Medicine in the Texas Medical Center.

So it only made sense when Buschur was contacted in May by Colleen O'Brien, an employee of the University of Texas Medical School at the TMC and an informal liaison with the art car community. O'Brien wanted to know if Buschur might be willing to park her Ghia, named "Planet Karmann," alongside several other art cars in the medical center's Webber Plaza on July 15. The cars would serve as decorative eye candy at a food drive co-sponsored by the Houston Food Bank and the TMC. Their minifestival would also feature local bands, booths selling lunch, and a steady stream of medical center employees piling donated foodstuffs on the grass.

Buschur parked Planet Karmann on Webber Plaza during the 1997 event and again last year, when the drive netted almost 58,000 pounds of food and $18,000 in donations. The Houston Chronicle even published a photo of Buschur working on the car with a caption plugging the food drive, which presumably pleased everyone involved. Buschur would be working at Baylor that day anyhow, so she said sure, she'd be happy to do it again.

She gave it little thought until two weeks ago, when she got a second e-mail from O'Brien. This one apologized for the switcheroo, asked Buschur to please not shoot the messenger and explained that someone within the TMC hierarchy had objected to the proposed presence of Planet Karmann at the food drive. Buschur and the breast were disinvited. The e-mail did not reveal who complained, or why.

Buschur says she's disappointed and "sad" about the reversal. "I really don't see what all the fuss is about. I think it's a lot of misplaced energy. I'm sure they're just concerned about their image and they don't want to offend anyone, anyone at the medical center or any sponsors or anything like that. But it's kind of too bad. I hate when people act frightened that way, even before they need to."

Buschur has no intention of protesting. "I told [Colleen] there was no ill will. I knew it wasn't her decision, and there are no hard feelings, and I wished her a lot of luck with the event. I personally just kind of left it at that, except I e-mailed Bryan to tell him that this had happened."

Bryan is Bryan Taylor, curator of Jim Harithas's Art Car Museum on lower Heights Boulevard, and a man not content to leave molehills unmountainized.

Taylor got on the phone to research the source of the disinvitation and quickly ran into a public relations department-scripted brick wall. A source of his had identified Dr. Richard Wainerdi, president of the Texas Medical Center, as a possible complaint candidate. Wainerdi denied any knowledge of the event to Taylor. Wainerdi failed to return phone calls from the Press.

Then Linda Winter, head of TMC public relations, called Taylor. He says Winter told him that Buschur's car had been disinvited because of space limitations in Webber Plaza — limitations expected to be greater this year with the addition of several new institutional participants. This explanation didn't ring true to Taylor, especially since none of the other invited artists had heard so much as a peep about any space limitations. Winter also failed to return phone calls from the Press.

And Colleen O'Brien had been hushed by the time the Press contacted her. "What I was told is since I'm an internal publications person [O'Brien edits the UT newsletter], that normally any outside events need to be handled by Public Affairs."

O'Brien referred inquiries to Gay McFarland, the UT Public Affairs officer, who said she also didn't know whence the complaint originated. She referred questions to back to TMC flack Winter. Since Winter still wasn't returning phone calls, a reporter contacted Mary Hall Richards, an employee of the Houston blood bank and a member of the volunteer TMC committee overseeing the food drive.

Richards originally asked O'Brien to pass on the bad news to Buschur, but when contacted by the Press, Richards responded with an answering machine message directing questions back to the TMC's Winter, who still wasn't returning phone calls.

One of the very few event people who would talk about the issue is Stephanie Dedeaux, public relations coordinator with the Houston Food Bank. Not surprisingly, she had no desire to further ruffle feathers.

"The basic line for us is, we appreciate everybody's involvement in this. It's political, and it's a difficult situation for us to comment on because we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, and we appreciate help from anybody in the community who wants to contribute to the cause."

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